Short and Sweet Kansai trip: 1 week of Small towns, Crafts and Zen Riddles

Short and Sweet Kansai trip: 1 week of Small towns, Crafts and Zen Riddles

Not so long ago, I carefully planned a week-long short and sweet Kansai trip itinerary. Like many dream trips, this may well have been one to be filed under “maybe one day” but it wasn’t planned a short, very practical trip within an hour and a bit from Kansai Airport for nothing. Sowith a bit of schedule shuffling, I managed to take a week off, by the time I was ready to book, I still managed to get a Finnair flight shy of 1000Euro, and with great joy, I set off for the last week of my annual leave.

What follows is a trip report, with some practical tips at the end.

This trip mixes some of the more famous sights of Kyoto with some less visited gems that aren’t exactly hidden treasures and see a fair number of national tourists. Trying to free myself from the insta-famous spots and visiting well-known classic sights instead, I managed to circumnavigate any crazy busy crowds.

So, I will try to put a “practical things I think are important” at the end but this is rather a loose travel diary than a service post… also because I got a bit busy and not much sleep in Kyoto so my contemplative travel diary writing got abandoned and the sightseeing ramped up, so whatever time I had was spent on sleeping or drinking tea!

Planning and Cost of my short and sweet Kansai trip

I researched accommodation about four weeks before the trip and managed to book refundable accommodation for very good prices, even as a solo traveller. I stayed in smaller guesthouses or ryokan and spent about 36000 JPY / 215 Euro on five nights accommodation in private rooms, averaging 43 Euros per night.

I booked my flight just two weeks before travel and was lucky that Finnair, alsong with some other Europe-based airlines were having special offers. I paid 900 Euro Economy fare using the shortest possible connection from my home airport, flying to Kansai via Helsinki.

For transport, I used an IC card, where I spent about 7000 JPY / 40 Euro on trains including the “Haruka” Airport Express, 5300 JPY / 31 Euro on bicycle hire for 4 days and 1700 JPY / 10 Euro on taxi fare.

So far, that’s 1200 Euro for a week in Japan, flights from Europe included. Not bad, is it?

As for food, that’s highly individual. From a cheap meal of vegetarian supermarket sushi to some fine sushi for 3000 JPY, I tried everything and averaged about 3000 JPY / 18 Euro a day for meals, dessert and coffee without restraining myself.

Which brings us to a final bill of about 1300 Euro, plus shopping.

Day by Day

I started my trip at lunchtime on a weekday, after actually working part of the day.

Day 1: Travel Day

I had to work for some of the day and took a lunchtime flight to Helsinki, where my Kansai-bound flight left around 18.00. Very pleasant, flying on a nice bright Airbus A350 with the added cuteness of being one of two Finnair Centenary Moomin-themes aircraft (OH-LWO). My heart jumped with joy when we were bussed to the cargo area, basically going on a glorified cargo flight with about 100 passengers. I had a triple seat to myself, which made for a very pleasant flight.

All in all, Finnair was fine, rather spartan service, legroom and entertainment system mediocre but clean new Airbus350 which, being less than 1/3 full, of course made for a very comfortable flight.

Day 2: Arrival, Sakai City

After arriving just after noon, I joined the humongous immigration queues as several planes from China, Europe and Taiwan had just landed. Although the queues were frightening, immigration and customs looked well organised and took about 30 minutes.

I loaded my IC card and hopped on a local Nankai train service to Sakai, then walked to my accommodation, Sakainoma, just in time for Check-in.

short and sweet Kansai trip
Sakai: not scenic but welcoming

I didn’t want to give in to jetlag and fall asleep, so I visited the nearby Sakai Traditional Crafts Museum and Knife Shop which, to be fair, is a huge knife and souvenir shop with a bit of museum attached. However, it’s free, and a nice educational break to learn about the 1001 types of Japanese knives, and about Sakai’s traditional craft.

I hadn’t realised that Sakai was not just a major port city and centre of blacksmithing and knifemaking, but played a crucial role in the development of tea ceremony, traditional patisserie, Chusen dying, and incense making.

After loading up on traditional hand towels (tenugui) from local brand Nijiyura and locally made incense in the museum shop, I tentatively set foot in my first knife workshop located a block from the museum.

The story of Japanese knives at Sakai Traditional Craft Museum

There is a handy map in the museum with location of the knife workshops and other places of interest. So this first shop, Yamawaki Hamono, was a relatively small scale producer of handmade kitchen knives.

Finishing workshop at Yamawaki Hamono

They don’t do tours or have a shop, but are very welcoming and happy to sell you a great knife. After talking to someone what kind of knife I was looking for, he brought a few suggestions. I then was invited into the workshop and observe the craftsman attach a handle and another one engrave the brand name into my new knife. While my knife was being packaged, I was given a short tour of the sharpening workshop across the road. They don’t forge their own knives, they told me, but buy blanks which they finish on site.

I happily walked out of the shop, now flagging a bit, looking for dinner. I walked back past a deserted Sugawara Shrine, didn’t find the izakaya I was looking for, and went for my first ever ramen experience at Kansai Furaiken just across from my guesthouse. Being vegetarian, I managed to steer clear of the pork broth, but my ramen came topped with two slices of pork … aside from that, it was quite tasty.

Just a regular Sakai street

I stayed at Sakainoma, a very cute cafe with two rooms at the back, set in a historic townhouse in otherwise somewhat featureless modern Sakai architecture on Sakai’s main Kishu-Kaido Avenue.

My large room at Sakainoma – a cafe with two rooms

My en-suite tatami room was large by Japanese standards, and very tastefully decorated in a Mid Century Modern meets ancient Japan way. All modern conveniences were right there, en suite shower room and a small garden to look out into! I didn’t try the cafe but it looked really nice and cosy. Excellent transport connections with the Hankai tram, which takes you all the way into Tenno-ji, Osaka, less than 100 metres away.

Day 3: Sakai to Tambasasayama

At 4am, the sun went up and my night was over. I managed to lounge in my beautiful room at Sakainoma for a few more hours, drinking tea, then when I felt it’s acceptable to prowl the streets of Sakaim I set off on the cute vintage tram to Shichido, a downtown area with some preserved old townhouses, incense shops, blacksmiths shops… it wasn’t on my radar but the Sakai Tourism Bureau brochures I had picked up in the museum suggested there is a whole load more to SAkai that knives, Shimano and huge underground tombs.

Anyway, that was pleasant but already very hot. There were plenty convenience stores with air-condition and cold drinks, and I popped into the odd cutlery atelier to … look at more knives. Of course I could not resist buying another knife from the charming and knowledgeable Yuri-san at Murata Hamono Cutlery. In this area, there are so many knife shops – from the old traditional Mizuno Tanrenjo to the modish Jikko. I promise, you will not walk out without a knife.

The wonderful Yuri-san engraving my knife at Murata Hamono

Seeking shade, I visited the Yamaguchi Townhouse Residence, a delightfully under-visited wooden merchants residence, then the Honganji Sakai Betusuin, a peaceful Jōdo-shū Buddhist temple with a huge decorated prayer hall and some of Sakai’s oldest wooden buildings. Even here, you could hear the din of the knivesmiths – one highly commended one, Takada no Hamono, is just opposite the temple.

My last stop of Sakai was Sakai’s premier tea merchant and their tea house, Tsuboichi Seicha, for some matcha tea and kakigori – green tea flavoured, of course.

A much needed iced matcha break at Tsuboichi Seichaen in Sakai

Then I picked up my bag and travelled to Sasayama – took a little bit of planning as the last leg, the bus, only runs every hour or so. Travelled by tram to Tennoji in Osaka, then a delightfully clean and spacious Osaka Metro, JR to Tambasasayama and bus to the town of Sasayama.

Sasayama: small and charming

I stayed at Oito Guesthouse in Sasayama – a cafe with two rooms converted from an old shophouse.

My gorgeous attic at Oito Guesthouse

I was drawn to Oito because of their aesthetic – dark and bright contrast, minimalist crafty style. Very friendly, great cafe, bicycle hire, very central Kawaramachi location and an amazingly cool and comfortable room. The only thing with the cheaper room is… you have to traverse the cafe to go to the bathroom, but with the cafe open until late afternoon, most of the time it is like you have a rather big old house to yourself.

Day 4: Tambasasayama to Kyoto

I woke early again and relaxed in my cool attic room and the downstairs cafe which I had to myself until the cafe staff arrived and made me breakfast. Here you can admire ceramics from all over Japan used in the cafe, and the staff are really helpful and tell you where pieces come from. It’s like a mini ceramics trip! I then walked up and down Kawaramachi in the already searing heat before switching to my bicycle which was much better with the breeze cooling my face.

Cycling in Japan really was the bees knees – just had to take care with sun protection, but it made the heat a lot more bearable.

Sasayama has some very cute cafes and homeware/ lifestyle shops, with many opening just on weekends when the town apparently experiences an influx of weekend tourists.

The most beautiful cafe award goes to … Breath and Roy!

So, I cycled round the castle, admired the thatched houses in town, visited the Anma FAmily Residence Samurai Museum, mooched around coffee and homeware shops, bought two nice tea mugs (Tamba-yaki, handmade, very reasonably priced at about 1500 JPY).

Ameya, a lovely pottery shop selling Tamba-yaki in Kawaramachi Historical Street

At midday, I caught the infrequent bus back to the train station, and travelled to Kyoto.

I noticed trains noticeable busier once I boarded a Kyoto-bound train. And Kyoto Station was mayhem compared to the relatively orderly stations I had experienced before. My bus travelled past Kiyomizu-dera and Yasaka Shrine and was crammed. Definitely not great. I was glad I just had a tiny cabin case at that point.And thankfully, my accommodation was in a relatively quiet street but just a couples hundred metres from the “photogenic Gion sites.

I left my luggage, had a cup of tea and started the trip downtown to pick up my hired bicycle. I felt pretty overwhelmed with the crowds at that point. I stopped at Komeda’s Coffee near the bicycle shop for an egg sandwich and novelty coffee then picked up my bicycle from J-Cycles (very much recommended) and cycled downtown, because when you already feel a bit overwhelmed, you take it one step further and go to the main shopping area, right?

Gion without many tourists – yes, it’s possible!

I parked in a bicycle car park and visited Nomura Tailor and Nishiki Market and Seria, and once I was done, I was really done, and just returned to my inn knackered and overwhelmed.

Kiraku Inn Kyoto, my beautiful home for three nights

I stayed at Kiraku Inn Kyoto for three nights. A very simple accommodation in an old Kyoto Machiya. I had a private room, bathrooms were shared. I liked it, my room had everything it needed, it was quiet (except for the crows at 4am, thank you) and clean and I paid under 100 Euro for three night sin a clean private room with access to a small kitchen in a super central location where I could also park my bicycle.

Day 5: Kyoto

An early start. It was flea market day at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. I left shortly before 6am and cycled the empty streets past Nijo-jo to the shrine, picking up breakfast at a convenience store on the way.

The market was still setting up around 7am, so I walked around the shrine, which one should not neglect – it’s a very pretty Shinto Shrine, with plenty of worshipper. Then I visited the flea market stalls. All in all – it was very nice early in the morning, lots of visitors but not crowded. Yes, there were kimono, but the ones I liked were pricey, 12.000 JPY-ish. The really cheap ones were definitely man-made fibre. I bought some silk kimono panels for 300JPY apiece, easy to carry, and pedalled to Ryoan-ji using back roads, before the sun came out in full force.

Cycling the little streets in Western Kyoto

On the whole, while I appreciate visiting the grand sights and UNESCO World Heritage sights of Kyoto, it is the smaller streets and and general scenery that sticks in my mind, and cycling was great for that. The buses and trains use major routes, on a bicycle, you can make a route at your leisure – although, the bike superhighways, where they exist, are pretty cool to move fast!

Ryoan-ji was already busy, but mostly with smaller groups of Japanese school kids and well-behaved Western tour groups, older people, not too noisy. I even got to sit down and stare at the expanse of raed gravel. Nobody bothered with the rest of the temple, that is, the interior and the strolling garden, which I had pretty much to myself.

Ryoan-ji, the realistic view – but visitors were appreciative and quiet

Since Ninna-ji was next door and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, it would have been foolish not to visit. The vast temple grounds are free, the Main (Kondo) Hall containing National Treasure is external viewing and prayers only, but the “palace gardens” which charge 800JPY entry fee, are the former abbots quarter and have some very lovely gardens you can admire from a shady perch in the palace and walk around on a series of wooden bridges. After walking in the blazing sun through the enormous Nio-mon Gate (one of Kyoto’s “big gates” with Chion-in and Nanzen-ji.

Ninna-ji Abbot’s Palace gardens

At that stage, I dumped my plan to go on to Arashiyama, had a vegetarian Buddhist lunch in the on-site kaikan and trundled down to Myoshin-ji, a large multi-temple compound. I missed out on the Main Hall and the dragon painting because I was ill-prepared, but spent well over half an hour in Taizo-in, a delightful sub-temple with several Zen and landscape gardens, a pergola with ample seating, a tea house, a zen riddle painting… and maybe three visitors.

Then, slowly cycling back towards my guesthouse, I stopped at a kakigori place called Kyogori Yukimi-an near Nijo-jo for some of the best shaved ice ever. And because an abbreviated sightseeing schedule freed up some time, I went into a big drugstore on the way to inspect the wonderful Japanese skincare and haircare product, and buy some of course.

Taizo-in: a peaceful sub-temple of Myoshin-ji

Now I roughly knew the way, cycling back past the castle on Oike-dori and back into Gion was nothing but a breeze, but when I got back to my inn, I just wanted to have a cup of tea and then head out for okonomiyaki/a walk round Gion, instead I fell asleep and woke after 19.00 and felt like a sack of lead, so I got a soda and read in my room.

Day 6: Kyoto

Another 6am start – just my way to avoid the worst of the crowding at popular sites. I cycled leisurely, watching an old lady feed the herons, had a conbini breakfast again because nowhere else was open, and slowly worked my way up into Higashiyama and visited Otoyo Shrine. A very small shrine called “Mouse Shrine” because its most prominent guardian animals statues are two mice, along with other cute animal statues. This tiny Shinto Shrine is dedicated to matchmaking and good relationships, and generally a lovely place to visit.

In terms of cuteness, the shrines win

Then I moved on along the Path of Philosophy, taking plenty of photo stops until I arrived at Ginkaku-ji. The walk from the bicycle parking up to the entrance was a bit of a slog in the searing heat, but the plethora of souvenir shops provided a good distraction. Arrived well before opening time, and when they opened, it wasn’t very crowded which made the visit pleasant, although it’s basically just a very nice Zen and landscape garden, without anywhere to sit and muse, and with all buildings off-limits, However, it is a classic Kyoto sight and a UNESCO world Heritage site.

Ginkaku-ji: Everyone gets the money shot

Then I left the bicycle in the parking and wandered down the small lane to neighbouring Honen-in Temple, which receives very few visitors.

Honen-in: off the beaten path, beautiful gardens

It has a beautiful small garden, perhaps one of my favourite gardens on my Kyoto trip. Enchanted, I walked on to Anraku-ji, even less visited. I think it isn’t open very often. I slowly walked through the halls and garden and then sat well over an hour in the “Pop Up Cafe” in the tea house which is beautiful and such a peaceful restful stylish place to be in.

Anraku-ji tea house

By now it was well lunchtime, to one more temple before temple fatigue sets in. This was Eikan-do, a moderately sized temple which gets very busy in foliage season but moderately visited all other times – most halls were accessible, there were some places to sit, it had a central pond and several gardens, as well as a viewing platform… a bit of everything and an all-round nice temple to visit. I really liked it.

Eikan-do Temple

By then, it was well past my lunch time and I cycled to a small sushi bar I had found on Google Maps, called Toyo Sushi. Very nice area, certainly touristed, very nice little traditional restaurant with an English menu. The sushi was good, not outstanding, but very low prices.

Then I cycled on, past Heian Shrine but running out of time to go visit properly, and into Tsutaya Books by Okazaki PArk and several art museums.

Cute omikuji at Okazaki Shrine

The book shop is small and had none of the books I was looking for – didn’t like it a lot. Then I cycled to Okazaki Shrine (“rabbit shrine”) which is apparently instafamous, but wasn’t overly crowded, took a few pictures of the cute bunnies and went to Fresco Supermarket and Seria again. It’s quite an urban area and definitely not as beautiful as Higashiyama hills. Also, what’s going on with these Kyoto supermarkets? Pretty much everyone was small with very little choice.

Cycled back, had a cup of tea, and went to Nomura Tailor again for my sins. And then, Takashimaya to two more book stores, Tsutaya and Ogaki, both of which I disliked. The Kawaramachi-Shiko dori area, having been given a second chance, was really not my scene. Cycled back “home” and enjoyed a supermarket dinner, all too knackered to go out again.

Day 7: Kyoto and flight home

Today was my last chance to do ALL the things I had not done yet which were a lot and it rained all night and all morning. I cycled through the rain to the famous Hokan-ji “photo spot” and Ninen-zaka.

Hokan-ji photospot 6am in the rain

It still rained but did not deter similarly strange people who thought a soggy morning is perfect for a photo shoot.

Acceptable crowd levels, Ninenzaka

There wasn’t a lot to see, so I visited Yasui Kompiragu Shrine, which was a lot more fun.

Yasui Kompira-gu – great place for an early morning visit

Then I slowly trundled through Hanamikoji Street and some smaller Gion streets, wound up at Tatsumi-jinja and Shirakawa Lane, another beautiful Gion spot when not rammed with people.

Tatsumi-jinja was a place I had to visit, being a fan of “The Makanai”

I was soaked at this point, so went home to dry, pack and check out. It was still raining, but time too precious to sit in my inn. I decided to cycle to the closest temple – Chion-in or Shoren-in.

A rainy Shoren-in

It was Shoren-in in the end, good choice, because delightfully undervisited and with loads of (dry) spaces to sit and admire the garden. I dug out my old manual lens for the first time and ended up taking some fairly nice shots – shots I would have never taken had I visited at my usual pace.

Shoren-in gardens – charming in the rain when watched from a dry terrace

I visited nearby to Hatsune Sushi for lunch. I don’t want to say too much, but this tiny six-seater restaurant was lovely. No English menu, but my restaurant Japanese was good enough at that stage to exchange pleasantries and order food I like.

The natto maki I proudly ordered in Japanese

And after lunch, stuffed full of futomaki and natto roll, it finally stopped raining! So, I doid one last very long cycle ride, towards the Northern Teramachi Shopping area, which I much prefer to the Kawaramachi one – much less crowded, smaller shops, had some of my favourites: Musubi, Misuyabari and Kyukyodo, paper shops, tea shops, cafes… unfortunately, I was running out of time at that point after som eshopping for hand-made needles and samue for my husband and me. One last push on the bicycle, enjoying the ride along Pontocho Alley to the highway that is Gojo-dori, stopped at Higashi Hongan-ji and bought incense in a hurry at Kungyokodo( a shame, that shop rocks in a weird way) before returning the bicycle and bussing back to my inn, where the innkeeper called a cab and off I was, to Kyoto Station and directly to Kansai Airport on the Hello Kitty themed “Haruka” Airport Express. Which was money well spent, because my little cabin case was now like a pack of lead thanks to books, shampoo bottles and Calpis, and I had stuffed my 60l duffel with rice crackers and fabric.

Kansai Airport wasn’t very exciting. I remember the Shiseido counter was pretty extensive, but Duty Free wasn’t that amazing – I looked high and low for my favourite Japanese whisky and couldn’t find it, so bought another one that costs a bomb in Europe, hoping that it’s good, than just sat at my gate.

We flew back on a Marimekko-themed A350 which was much fuller, with small kids left, right and centre, and also a rainstorm. Neither was fun but I was beyond caring at this point, just wanted to get home safely – which I did around lunch time the next day.


A few practical things I remember being useful, in no particular order.


It was my first time travelling with Finnair, and while I enjoy their new European-built aircraft with Finnish design themes and their accident-free statistics (one of the world’s safest airlines) the flight itself was fine – medium comfort cabin, so so food, entertainment system playing up. We did fly the polar route, though, so everyone was offered a certificate. It is rather tight transferring in Helsinki, especially as the Finns like to do a very thorough security check for all Non-Schengen arrivals and that terminal is very long. Arrive late and you may struggle.

Our Marimekko plane on the return flight

Transport in Japan

If you plan to visit Japan more than once, get a proper IC card – whatever is issued at your place of arrival. I have a Sugoca, charged it at a machine, used it without fail on every train and bus.

Only the Airport Express required a supplement express ticket – or, as a foreigner, buy it through one of the consolidators (I used Agoda) about 1/3 cheaper and get the QR Code scanned at one of the ticket machines for the proper ticket. Also, with larger luggage, definitely use Airport Express or Limited Express to and from the airport – these have dedicated luggage space. You do not want to bog up an already crowded commuter train and change once or twice on the way to the airport.

Same goes for Kyoto buses. Some routes between the train station and major tourist sites are horribly crowded, so well, the yen is relatively low, and taxi rides are affordable. I skipped the buses once I had picked up my bicycle which, for me, was the best way to travel in Kyoto.


I stayed in traditional inns which is a personal preference. Yes, futons are hard on my middle-aged back, bathrooms are often shared, but I love the traditional style. I have included links where I stayed and recommend all. If you want traditional inns, look for “ryokan” or Minshuku” or “inn”.

Another money-saving option are Japanese business hotels. Lacking in style but great n amenities, often with on-site spa, laundry facilities and microwaves. I personally like SPeria – usually very modern and well-kept. Dormy Inn often have a cracking on-site onsen. First Cabin is a chain that offers micro rooms for really low prices in super central locations including airports. Don’t neglect the hundreds of small independent hotels either.


I wish I could write a bit more about amazing restaurants, but I was up super early (convenience store breakfast, then) and often so knackered at night that I did not bother to go out for dinner.

Lunch tends to be somewhat cheaper than dinner and makes a nice break in the middle of the day, and often there are special lunch offers.

Personally I see little value queueing for an hour or so at some hyped place – I did look up some restaurants on Google, but then, the kakigori place had a rating in the mid-threes and was amazing. Tabelog is a Japanese restaurant review and reservation site that is useful if you have your heart set on a particular place. I did find here and in Nagasaki if you come in as a solo diner, smiling and asking nicely in imperfect Japanese, they bend over backwards to accommodate you.

I also ate food from supermarkets a lot – vegetarian sushi, pickles, silken tofu… my firm favourites, and where can you eat a big plate of pickles in a restaurant? Lunchtime has the biggest choice of freshly prepared foods, evenings after 19.00 the best price reductions.


Of course, can’t go anywhere without a bit of shopping. For me, its fabric, books, food, skincare… and bits and pieces to do with crafts. Some major shops like Uniqlo (and Nomura Tailor in my case) offer tax free shopping. So, carry your passport at all times (it is a legal requirement anyway) and enquire. Shopping in Japan is delightful, but I am not the typical shopper and found more in suburban malls (that’s you Tsutaya Books) than in the city centre.

Kyoto has some beautiful stores for fabric, cotton hand towel and wrapping cloth, soft furnishing, incense, green tea, sweets, paper… I might do a shopping post at some stage but if you are looking for anything in particular, feel free to drop me a comment or email.

Most of what I hauled back was food, rice crackers in particular, spices, quality cooking sauces, books.

Advice from a foreign tourist

Read it in the news everywhere, Japan has a VERY LARGE number of tourists visiting right now. Kyoto is on the main tourist route, so expect it to be busy. Although most tourists are Asian, us Westerners definitely stick out more, and it helps to appreciate the somewhat different culture and be a good guest.

This isn’t meant to be preachy or something – just what I observed what might make sense.

A lot of places are not that busy. Sakai, Tambasasayama – very few tourists. So, looking up these less famous places and see if they appeal makes sense.

Kyoto, of course, is one of Japan’s historic capitals and a cultural highlight. But well, there are hundreds super interesting places other than Kinkaku-ji, Arashiyama “Bamboo Forest” and Fushimi Inari. I looke dup all UNESCO WOrld Heritage sites and visited three, two of which were moderately busy and one not busy at all. The rest – well known temples with relatively few visitors.

Then there are the museums. History, art, textiles, craft, manga, Buddhism… there are loads, Most accessible are probably the Higashiyama art museums, but good museums are all over town. I am ashamed to say this has been my third visit to Kyoto and I barely scratched the surface.

So, what about these famous “rules” for tourists in Kyoto? Well, for me the most important rule was that I cannot park my bicycle anywhere I want, but that was pretty obvious. Just observe what Japanese are doing, take off shoes where it says so, don’t take photos where it is prohibited, don’t be loud in residential areas… the Japanese are pretty good at signposting, so just visit with eyes and ears open.

Language-wise, not knowing Japanese is totally fine but a few greetings in Japanese help break the ice, and I observed the Japanese much more willing to pull out their mobiles and communicate via translate app when making an effort rather than assuming everyone has to speak English. I learned a tiny bit of Japanese on the fee Duolingo plan, and even for things like numbers, it was really helpful.

Maybe it’s because I am a quiet, softly spoken person, who asks for permission, but I encountered nothing but friendliness and mild interest. Never got turned away at restaurants, received nice and courteous service everywhere. Random people greeting me in the street in the early morning… wouldn’t happen in Berlin.

So, if you want to visit Japan, but are worried about the crowds or the cost – go anyway. Due to the exchange rate to the Euro, Japan is very reasonably priced, definitely a lot cheaper than Germany right now. Crowds are easy to avoid if you don’t do the Golden Route Hotspots Tour.

Is it worth to go to Japan for one week only?

Probably the question I was asked by friends and family, and of course I would have preferred a longer trip, but it just was not possible as I could only take exactly one week off.

Even considering paying for the flight, for me it was absolutely worth visiting Japan again, even just for one week. I had wanted to return since I spent six weeks in Nagasaki last year.

By sticking to a metropolitan region with excellent public transport and travelling light, I was able to travel pretty effortlessly and easily.

Obviously, jet lag is an issue. Let’s just say I did not sleep very much on that trip until I cycled about 20km a day in Kyoto and was so exhausted that I slept incredibly well. For me, visiting for a week made good sense, to the point that I am planning to return on my next one-week break from work! Again, I will stick to one region but there will definitely be more remote areas and countryside on the upcoming trip, so I will see how that works out.

The small print

I visited Kansai in May 2024 on a self-organised trip that I paid for myself. All opinions are my own, all reviews are honest etc. I have included links to my accommodations on, which is where I actually found and booked them myself. If you book through these links, I may get paid a small commission, which helps with cost of running this website. This blog is a hobby, my travel funds come from saving up from my main job!

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10 thoughts on “Short and Sweet Kansai trip: 1 week of Small towns, Crafts and Zen Riddles”

  • I am dying to visit Japan! This looks like a wonderful trip and Kyoto is so cool. I am also like you – I’d definitely want to stay in some traditional places and get that experience. I don’t mind a shared bathroom if I can still get some privacy!

    • Hi Meghan Elise, Please visit when you can! Japan is so cool. I really fell in love with Kyoto so much that I am planning another visit. Generally, there is privacy and in my inn, people were super considerate, the bathrooms were extremely clean. My next trip has all shared bathrooms except for one hotel I think. I am not too keen on it elsewhere, but in Japan it’s quite common, and also, there are usually separate lavatories and big baths to soak in, sometimes a bit impractical to squeeze them into an already small room.

  • We’re going to Japan this August, and will be in Osaka and Kyoto during that time, so have added a few more ideas to our itinerary. Such as the Sakai Traditional Crafts Museum.

    • Hi! That is so cool! Sakai is definitely not that touristy, if you love good kitchen knives, you will have a great time there. Will you be going for Obon Festival? Have a wonderful time in Japan!

  • You certainly achieved a lot in one week. I’ve always found Japan to be very organised, making it possible to experience much of what is offered, wherever you are in the country for a short time. Love the traditional places of accommodation.

    • Hi Marilyn, thank you for your nice comment! It is easily doable, since the rail network in Kansai is really good, and I did not cover huge distances, and cycled a lot. I love, the traditional accommodation so much, although I always need to get used to it (bed are much harder with a futon on the floor), they are so cosy yet elegant.

  • What a fabulous trip! It all looks so beautiful and I love hat adorable shrine! I’d love to visit Japan one day. Thanks for sharing all your helpful tips!

  • Thanks for the travel tips for accommodations and getting around. I enjoyed this and have been considering heading to Japan for a week. this makes me feel like i can do all the things in Im intersted in.

  • I agree, if you only have a week to travel somewhere you want to go, you should go. You packed a lot into a week! I have never been to Japan and may go next year, so I learned so much from this post, about accommodations and travel tips.

    • Hi Melinda, that’s true. I love Japan, and I am planning to visit again very soon. I have some constraints from work schedules, so I take what I can get. Just be careful when you visit… Japan is very addictive! I hope you have a wonderful trip there, feel free to ask if you need any specific information!

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